Contemporary issues such as euthanasia, surrogate motherhood, organ transplantation and gene therapy, which occupy the minds of ethicists in the industrialized countries are, for the moment, irrelevant in most developing countries. There, the ethics of scarcity, sacrifice, cross-cultural research, as well as the activities of multinational companies, are germane. In this article, only the ethics of scarcity and sacrifice will be discussed. Structural adjustment programmes, designed to solve the economic problems of the developing countries, muddied the waters. The dilemma confronting practitioners in developing countries is how to adhere to the basic principles of medical ethics in an atmosphere of hunger, poverty, war and ever-shrinking and often non-existent resources. Nowhere else in the world is the true meaning of scarcity portrayed as vividly as in the developing countries. Consequently, the doctor's clinical freedom may have to be sacrificed by the introduction of an essential drugs list and practice guidelines. The principle of greater good, while appealing, must be carefully interpreted and applied in the developing countries. Thus, while health promotion and disease prevention must be the primary focus, health planners should avoid pushing prevention at the expense of those currently sick. Health care reform in developing countries must not merely re-echo what is being done in the industrialized countries, but must respond to societal needs and be relevant to the community in question.
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